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Would Aid Hostages for Price, Iran Official Says : Parliament Speaker Also Says That McFarlane Made Secret Trip in Attempt to Free Americans

November 05, 1986|MICHAEL ROSS | Times Staff Writer

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A senior Iranian official Tuesday offered Iran's help in freeing the remaining American and French hostages in Lebanon, provided that the United States and France agree to settle financial claims and unblock the shipments of arms bought by Iran before the Islamic revolution.

The official, Iran's Speaker of Parliament Hashemi Rafsanjani, also said that a U.S. delegation headed by Robert C. McFarlane, President Reagan's former national security adviser, visited Tehran secretly last month in a bid to enlist the country's help in securing the release of the hostages.

Under House Arrest

McFarlane and the four other Americans arrived on a flight carrying military equipment and brought a message from Reagan seeking improved relations, Rafsanjani said. The Americans were put under house arrest in their hotel for five days and then expelled from Iran, Rafsanjani asserted.

His remarks were interpreted as an effort to discredit reports published in the Arab world Monday that Iran had already worked out a secret deal with Washington that would trade American arms for Iran's assistance in persuading Muslim extremists in Lebanon to release the hostages. The hostages include at least five Americans, six French nationals and several other foreigners.

In Washington, U.S. officials initially refused to comment on Rafsanjani's remarks, which were reported by Iran's official news agency and monitored in Cyprus. That fueled speculation in Washington and throughout the Middle East that the United States had lifted its arms embargo on Iran in order to win the hostages' freedom.

But, late in the day, the White House announced that the seven-year-old U.S. arms embargo remained in place. "As long as Iran advocates the use of terrorism, the U.S. arms embargo will continue," presidential spokesman Larry Speakes told reporters aboard Air Force One as it returned President Reagan from California to Washington.

The United States suspended relations with Iran after militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979, and took 66 hostages, eventually holding 52 of them for 14 months.

In recent years, the Administration's rigid enforcement of the embargo has led the government of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to turn to the international black market in a desperate search for spare parts to maintain the U.S.-built planes, tanks and other equipment that had been sold to Iran before the ouster of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

'No Winners or Losers'

On Tuesday, Speakes said "the U.S. position on the Iran-Iraq War remains that the fighting should stop and the two sides should reach a negotiated settlement of their dispute. We favor an outcome where there are no winners or losers."

Neither White House nor State Department spokesmen would comment on Rafsanjani's contention that McFarlane had visited Tehran recently. McFarlane could not be reached for comment, and a spokesman at his office at the private Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington declined to discuss the report.

But a U.S. government official who is a close friend of McFarlane said a mission to Tehran would run counter to the former adviser's position on the hostages. The official said had been adamantly opposed to arranging any deal to secure the hostages' freedom and, thus, he did not believe McFarlane was involved in any such effort.

"Bud has had absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing to do with this," the source said of McFarlane. "Somebody's trying to frame him."

Denies Trip Was Made

When asked specifically whether McFarlane had made a trip to Iran, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "I know that that did not happen."

Addressing a Tehran rally on the seventh anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Iran, Rafsanjani said that, as a "humanitarian gesture," Iran would consider using its influence to gain the release of the hostages in return for U.S. and French pledges to cease all "hostile acts" against Iran.

According to the Iranian news agency, Rafsanjani cited France's refusal to settle Iranian financial claims and a freeze by the United States on the shipment of arms purchased by the late Shah of Iran, but never delivered, as examples of what Iran considered "hostile acts."

Regarding Iran's financial claims, France announced last week that it had reached an agreement with Iran on paying back some of the $1 billion that the French Atomic Energy Commission borrowed from Iran 12 years ago.

Rafsanjani also said the United States and France must persuade Israel to meet "the demands of the oppressed Muslims of Lebanon"--an apparent reference to calls for the release of Lebanese prisoners in Israel--as another condition for Iran's help. However, he later indicated that proof of U.S. and French willingness to cease all "meaningless hostile acts" against Iran would be enough to induce his government to intervene in the hostage issue.

Humanitarian Gesture

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